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A Tchaikovsky Tapestry


Published January 30, 2010


With its ravishing melodies, lush orchestration, and melancholy mood, the soul-searching Pathétique embodies the central theme of Tchaikovsky's life and work. Under the baton of Music Director Barbara Schubert, the University Symphony Orchestra presents this famous symphonic creation along with excerpts from Tchaikovsky's poignant Swan Lake ballet on Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 8pm in Mandel Hall.

Extended notes:

The University Symphony Orchestra performed Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, Pathétique, on January 30th at 8:00 pm in Mandel Hall on the University of Chicago Campus. The performance commemorated Tchaikovsky’s compositional genius and illuminated the central theme of his life and work. The program also included excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s poignant Swan Lake ballet, which likewise portrays the composer’s aspirations and disappointments.

Referring to the Pathétique, Tchaikovsky stated, "On my word of honour, I have never felt such self-satisfaction, such pride, such happiness, as in the consciousness that I am really the creator of this beautiful work I am prouder of it than of any other of my compositions." Tchaikovsky had begun sketching the work two years earlier and intended to title the symphony Life. Becoming frustrated, he scrapped the work only to begin anew in February of 1893. "The ultimate essence of the plan of the symphony is Life. First part--all impulsive passion, confidence, thirst for activity. Must be short. (Finale Death--result of collapse.) Second part love; third disappointment; fourth ends dying away (also short)." He finished composing the work in March, and then orchestrated the symphony during the summer. Instead of Life, however, Tchaikovsky’s brother Modesto chose the more provocative title, Pathétique. The composer conducted the masterpiece just nine days before his death in St. Petersburg's Philharmonic Hall.

Tchaikovsky died on October 25, 1893 after a four-day illness chronicled in the medical records and reported in the newspapers as a case of cholera. Many scholars and critics believe that he committed suicide by knowingly drinking a glass of unboiled water. For Modesto, the Symphony "was like an act of exorcism by which Peter Ilich cast out all the black spirits that had possessed him for so long." Yet historical evidence shows that Tchaikovsky continued composing new works after completing the Sixth Symphony and had made plans for other large-scale compositions.

Nevertheless, meditations on death and mortality do figure centrally in the symphony’s expressive trajectory. Critics interpret the famous ending the music slowly dying away as the contrabasses play a repeated note with a fading heartbeat or perhaps the composer’s own death. This dramatic conclusion, in addition to words such as dreamy, melancholy, and passionate that permeate the other three movements, only fuels speculation of the composer’s alleged suicide.

The University Symphony Orchestra concludes this program with excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s celebrated ballet Swan Lake.
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Notes

This recording not endorsed or affiliated with the University of Chicago or any of it's staff.

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